COLUMBIA, Mo. — Eli Drinkwitz says he can’t speak about Jayden Daniels.
Two days into Mizzou’s spring football camp, the player who’s garnering the most attention — with all due respect to five-star freshman wide receiver Luther Burden — is Arizona State transfer quarterback.
Tigers third-year coach Drinkwitz, who can be quite garrulous when he wants to chat, had his lips sealed on Saturday.
“Can’t comment on recruitment,” Drinkwitz said a day after his team moved from Friday to Saturday what was supposed to be the first part of spring training to open to the media.
Maybe because a special visitor was making the rounds?
Despite attempts at secrecy, news emerged.
Daniels visited CoMo. Mizzou found a workaround for an NCAA recruiting calendar blocking in-person visits at the time, perhaps by having Daniels sign some sort of non-binding scholarship paperwork that made his trip possible. Give Drinkwitz creativity as a gift. Where some coaches see stop signs, he finds detours.
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“I’m not engaged anywhere at the moment, thanks,” Daniels wrote on Twitter Thursday amid rumors that he had picked the Tigers.
Think of this as an old-fashioned case of Stay Tuned.
What do we know about Daniels by then?
First, we know Drinkwitz wanted him so badly he risked knocking over his QB apple cart.
The two grantee quarterbacks who coached Saturday, Tyler Macon and Brady Cook, must have known Daniels was being hit in earnest and that this transfer portal works both ways. Drinkwitz also points out that new quarterback Sam Horn was offered the opportunity to fight for the starting spot in the fall. Your toughest competition might arrive. Feathers might be ruffled.
“After the spring game, there will be no announcement as to who the quarterback is,” Drinkwitz said Saturday.
Drinkwitz hinted at this continued QB chase. The transfer of former starter Connor Bazelak to Indiana left the attacking-minded coach quite vulnerable in the most important position. As tough as last season was for the ailing Bazelak, neither Macon nor Cook managed to knock him off the top of the depth chart, at least not until Cook started bowl play, a decision likely influenced by signs those on Bazelaks then… Pending transfer.
Still, it’s a calculated risk Drinkwitz brazenly pursuing Daniels given what could happen to the quarterbacks he’s got his hands on. He bets that the hunt is worth the reward. There’s reason to think Daniels might tick that box.
The 6-foot-3, 185-pound Daniels is one of the most notable Power 5 quarterbacks left in the portal, along with ironically former Georgia quarterback JT Daniels. Reviewers like its cover, mobility, and mechanics. He can stretch the pocket and turn those thirds-and-3s into first downs. They don’t like that his freshman season was statistically more impressive than his last.
The former four-star prospect, who has 29 games of Power 5 experience under his belt, has two years left to play as the pandemic limits the Pac 12 to just four games in 2020.
Daniels decided to return for another college season after contemplating the NFL draft. Tempe celebrated the news. His decision to play elsewhere this season came at the hands of Herm Edwards’ team, which is currently reeling from NCAA recruiting violations. Teams with unresolved QB situations lined up to recruit Daniels. One of his former Arizona State teammates posted a video on social media showing players cleaning out the quarterback’s locker while criticizing him. Sour grapes or a sign of a fight in the dressing room? The answer depends on who is asked. Arizona State is an unstable place right now, but the blame lies more with Coach Edwards than with the quarterback he lost.
Elsewhere, new beginnings can fizzle out or work wonders. Some Mizzou fans will be skeptical after the flopped Kelly Bryant experience. But it’s easy to see why Drinkwitz is intrigued.
Daniels has completed 451 of 723 passes (62.3%) and compiled 32 touchdowns and 6,024 passing yards during his collegiate career. He’s also rushed for 13 career touchdowns and 1,288 yards. Last season, he rushed for 710 yards and six touchdowns, more total rushing yards than any other Pac 12 QB. He has enough spices.
He has a strong, sometimes wow-worthy arm that can move the ball down in a hurry. Especially when he’s playing with deep threat receivers like Arizona State used to do. This arm can also sometimes get him into trouble. After throwing just three interceptions in 422 pass attempts in his first two seasons, he had as many interceptions (10) as touchdowns last season. But his completion percentage was also a career-best 65.4%, and the 8-5 Sun Devils lost eight points behind Wisconsin in the Las Vegas Bowl.
Don’t overlook this shell loss.
Daniels passed or ran for 199 of the thinned Arizona State’s 219 total yards. During a failed comeback attempt, he completed two heaves for 30+ yards in the second half. And he did so despite harassment from a strong defense that fired him four times.
“Thanks to Daniels,” Wisconsin linebacker Jack Sanborn said after the game. “He’s a great player.”
Tealeaves have hinted for some time that Drinkwitz would address the lack of done-da-done-that in his quarterback room before the start of the season. I assumed he would wait for the QB carousel to spin again after spring depth maps crystallized elsewhere, causing another migration. But if dual threat Daniels is indeed the difference maker, Drinkwitz believes he needs to make a creative offense that now includes the X-factor of loading to the next level, he can’t afford to wait. He also has nothing to apologize for as long as the hunt pays off.